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Lotus 7: buying guide and review (1957-1972)

Lotus 7: buying guide and review (1957-1972) Classic and Performance Car
Lotus 7 Lotus 7 Lotus 7
Few cars are as recognisable today at a Lotus Seven. The fun-sized little sports car has been replicated so many times that few actually know the origins of this iconic shape. Still built in many forms by Caterham, the Seven has become the champion for lightweight technology, and even today thanks to utilising high-tech the world of cycling. Colin Chapman would be proud. 
As far back as 1957, the Lotus Seven has been offering the lightweight performance fun that made Lotus just as successful on the road as on the track. The Seven was cheap too, proving that speed can be affordable, even if it is at the cost of comfort and practicality!
Despite its limited creature comforts, the Seven was a car that could handle all weather use with a hardy driver at the wheel. Today, an original Seven is a rare and relatively valuable proposition, so it’s unlikely you’ll see one in all weathers, but as long as you’re handy with a set of sockets, there’s very little to stop you enjoying one year-round.
Because of the car’s kit nature, engines, gearboxes and other mechanical parts came and went while Lotus was building the Seven, but whatever you buy you’ll have a hoot every time you get behind the wheel. Short of buying a motorbike, you’ll struggle to find anything that offers such an adrenalin rush.
To get around the extremely high tax that customers would have to pay on a completed Seven, Lotus offered the cars as CKD (or completely knocked down) kits. The rules at the time stated that Lotus couldn’t actually offer the cars with instructions!
Whatever the car is worth, the grin factor doesn’t vary by that much. You’ll enjoy plenty of smiles per pound spent, whichever version you buy. It’s also hard to find a tatty one, as they’re almost always cherished and pampered, although badly repaired cars are out there, as well as worn out seats and interior trim.
Which one to buy?
Only 3000 or so Lotus Sevens were built so it’s no wonder demand has always outstripped supply. As a result values are high, so provided you buy carefully, you’d be pretty unlucky not to get back what you paid for the car when the time comes to sell it on. And unless you’re upgrading, the chances are you won’t ever want to sell.
The original Series 1 Sevens were the only cars to receive alloy bodywork, making these highly sought after. In total, around 240 of theses Series 1 cars were built before the cheaper and much more popular Series 2 and 3 cars came along.
It depends what mechanicals are fitted as to what you should do to upgrade the car. Most powerplants can be tuned, but this may be pointless because the power-to-weight ratio tends to be pretty good unless the engine is truly arthritic. It may be worth fitting different dampers but again you need to be careful because you may end up with better handling at the expense of the ride, which may be come unbearable. 
You’re better off focusing on making the car more usable, by fitting better lighting, decent seatbelts and perhaps an uprated cooling system if the engine runs hot. Don’t assume that these cars need lots of upgrades just because they’re old though; sometimes they’re better if left to original spec, as long as they’re reliable. 
Performance and specs 
Lotus 7 S3
Engine 1598cc, in-line four-cylinder
Power 84bhp @ 6500rpm
Torque 91lb ft @ 3500rpm
Top speed 104mph
0-60mph 7.7sec
Consumption 32mpg
Gearbox Four-speed manual
Dimensions and weight
Wheelbase 2260mm
Length 3378mm 
Width 1702mm 
Height 940mm 
Weight 549kgs
Common problems
• The chassis needs careful inspection. Replacement sections and complete chassis are available, but fitting them isn’t always a DIY restoration job. Chassis rust is normally only a problem if the car has been shunted and poorly repaired, unless you’re looking at an S4. These featured a bodyshell that was bonded to the frame. Not only is the car much more prone to rust, but it’s also harder to inspect the chassis and much more tricky to properly repair corrosion.

• Badly repaired accident damage isn’t rare, with frontal impacts the most common. Look for bent tubes or badly let in replacement sections. To get the best view you’ll need to remove the bonnet and nosecone and when you drive the car make sure it’s not pulling to one side.

• The bodywork is made of aluminium and glassfibre, so rust isn’t an issue, although dented alloy body panels are. Unpainted alloy panels can also become pitted if they haven’t been kept clean, while glassfibre can become cracked and crazed. But the latter is cheap and easy to replace, although S4 models are harder to fix as the rear wings, dash and scuttle are integrated.

• The aluminium fuel tank sits at the back and can rub at the mounting points leading to leaks. Replacement means the removal of the roll bar, if one is fitted.

• Engines tend to get used hard, but they have a relatively easy life as the Seven weighs so little. But some units are highly tuned so you need to make sure they haven’t been overstressed.

• Lotus used Ford, BMC and Coventry-Climax powerplants as well as their own, but most Sevens have had their powerplants updated along the way. Nicest of the early engines is the Coventry-Climax unit, but these suffer from internal corrosion and cracked cylinder heads. 

• The 1340 Cosworth in the S2 is sought after, but rare and temperamental thanks to its three-bearing crank. The 1500 (in Cosworth and non-Cosworth forms) is the most likely powerplant you’ll find, other than a twin-cam. This latter engine is the nicest of all but it won’t take neglect and rebuilds are very expensive.

• Lotus used Nash Metropolitan axles until 1960, when the Standard Companion unit took over. Neither is strong, so many have been swapped for Marina or Escort items. 

• The bush that locates the A-frame for the rear suspension perishes and can be treated as a consumable. Swapping it takes no more than a couple of hours, and transforms the handling.
Model history
1957: Lotus 7 launched with Ford 100E engine, 15-inch wheels, Austin Metropolitan axle and drum brakes. Later known as 7F.
1958: Super 7 arrives with Coventry Climax FWA 1100cc engine – subsequently known as the 7C.
1959: A-series engine heralds launch of Lotus 7A.
1960: 7 America appears with Sprite engine, flared wings, glassfibre nose and tubular bumpers.
1961: Ford 105E engine replaces 100E and A-series.
1962: Super 7 1500 on sale, with Cortina powerplant. Fuel tank capacity increased from 5.5 to 8 gallons.
1963: Flared wings replace cycle wings.
1967: Series 2 1/2 launched, with Ford 1600 Crossflow engine.
1968: Series 3 arrives with 1300 or 1600 Crossflow engines, front disc brakes.
1970: Series 4 introduced with new glassfibre bodyshell and spaceframe chassis, plus negative earth electrics.
1972: Lotus Seven production ceases.
Key clubs and websites
• www.lotus7club.com - Owners club for Lotus and Caterham 7 models
• www.lotus7register.co.uk - The Lotus 7 register
• www.simplesevens.org - A good resource of Lotus 7 information and chassis numbers
• www.lotusdriversclub.org.uk - Lotus Drivers Club and forum
• www.club-lotus.co.uk - Large UK-based owners club
Summary and prices
Today, an original Lotus 7 can cost from around £10,000 for a project, to around £35,000 for a mint example. Values do vary between the S1, S2 and S3 models, but it is ultimately the condition that dictates value. The series 4 is considerably less valuable, but its slightly quirky styling is certainly appealing to some. Expect to pay around £15,000 for a good example.
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Last updated: 18th Apr 2016
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